At Thursday night's Proud to Vote debate, NDP, Liberal, and Green representatives pledged that their respective parties would repeal Bill C-36, the Conservatives' anti-sex-work law, if they form government. The issue, which had barely been mentioned in this election, is apparently a matter of importance for all three of them.
The LGBTQ issues forum, held in the cabaret space at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, invited each party to send a candidate of their choice, regardless of the riding in which they're running. And so there was Craig Scott, the NDP incumbent in Toronto-Danforth, facing off against the Greens' Chris Tolley from the same riding as well as Bill Morneau, the Liberal hopeful in Toronto Centre. The Conservatives opted not to send a delegate, which was both unsurprising and somewhat frustrating, given that as recently as last month the party was literally waving the LGBT banner. The CPC place on the stage was left empty, with moderator Brenda Cossman asking off the top that participants "not engage in a kind of Clint Eastwood debate with the chair."
The Conservatives appear to have nevertheless noticed the event, with Jason Kenney suddenly invoking C-36 as a wedge issue the next day. The new law, written in response to the Supreme Court's 2013 decision to strike down certain earlier statutes that endangered the lives of sex workers, flew in the face of the ruling by going even further to criminalize sex work and push those who practice it underground. NOW Magazine is part of a coalitionopposing the law, which also criminalizes the placement of sex advertisements by third parties.
(My partner is the co-founder of one of the 10 groups that organized the debate.)
Here are candidates' complete responses to the question of what to do about C-36, minus those parts of their answers that were drowned out by applause. Below that are a handful of other highlights from the debate, touching on a range of issues that directly or indirectly affect LGBTQ people.
Xtra's Kevin O’Keefe: Recently, Bill C-36, which was ostensibly created to protect sex workers, passed through our last government. However, sex-worker advocacy groups have criticized the bill as unduly endangering the lives and livelihoods of sex workers. Will your party look at revising or repealing this bill?
Scott (NDP): We fought it very hard, just as we had C-51 and the “Unfair Elections Act,” and there’s no way — as Tom [Mulcair] said with respect to another subject two days ago — there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that we would allow that legislation to stay on the books. It’s done. There’s a couple starting points, but one of them has to be, when the Supreme Court exercises moral leadership within a constitutional framework and sets out principles that everybody can use as a reference point for good-faith debate about what the best approach is and that it’s totally ignored, for purposes of nothing but playing to the base — throwing blue meat, if you like, out to the base — was one of the worst experiences of my three years since being elected. And it was my privilege to be part of the team, even though I’m on another committee, to be called in on occasion to lead some of the questioning on the bill that completely, completely does not understand the idea of sex workers’ rights. So absolutely you’ll see an NDP government making sure that we figure out what to do with the Supreme Court judgment that does not involve keeping this legislation.
Morneau (Liberal): Well, on this there’s no disagreement. We would want to get rid of this bill just as the NDP would, and think that — now, I know there’s no Conservative here — but think that this is a continuing approach that the Conservatives seem to be doing, which is dismissing our courts and dismissing the judgments of our Supreme Court on issues that really matter to Canadians. So this is completely unacceptable. It’s a bill that puts people in danger, and we would not stand for it.
Tolley (Green): Repeal it. We would repeal it. We feel that the most important thing is the legislation has to be there to protect the sex workers; it’s not about protecting the public. We need to talk and formulate legislation with sex workers. Right now, we prefer the model that’s based on the New Zealand model — a very, very strong model. We would prefer something along those lines, where basically what you’re doing is you’re protecting the sex workers, not criminalizing it. At the same time, we need to also have structures in place so that if somebody does want to leave the business, they have the support and the ability to live any life that they want. At the end of the day, everybody has free choice, and we just need to make sure that everybody is protected and safe.
Moderator Cossman (a U of T law professor and director of the school's Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies): So on this question, I actually risk turning into Clint Eastwood and just saying “Shame on that chair. Shame.”